Getting into Nursing: Your Top 10 Questions Answered

If 2020 has taught us anything, our healthcare services’ role cannot be underestimated. Nursing and healthcare are vital industries to keep the nation’s health going, even in the most difficult times like we are facing now.

Becoming a nurse is both a great career choice and a calling for many people, and since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a huge spike in the number of people wishing to train or retrain in the nursing field. 

The Different Types of Nursing

Nursing sometimes gets a bad reputation as a field for ‘lesser doctors’, but this could not be further from the truth and, in some states, Nursing Practitioners are given almost the same autonomy as physicians. In all states, nurses of all levels are respected members of the healthcare team, and their support and hard work are critical to keeping the nation’s health as strong as it has traditionally been.

There are many different nursing qualification levels and understanding each one will allow you to find out which path you want to take. It is not quite black and white, and you may wish to stay at one level for your entire career or move up the levels with more training and more qualifications to become more specialized.

In the US, there are, broadly, four levels of nursing qualifications. These are:

  • Nursing Assistant (CNA) – CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants) complete a state-approved training program that usually lasts around three to six weeks and includes nursing exams. This Is a great start to your career, and you can expect to earn a median salary of approximately $29,000 with this level of qualification.
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) – LPNs are sometimes known as Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN) and will usually have completed a nursing Diploma. While there is variation state by state as to whether an LPN/LVN can administer or supervise medication administration, most LPNs/LVNs will be in charge of basic medical requirements in a healthcare setting. The average salary for an LPN/LVN sits at around $47,000 per year.
  • Registered nurse (RN) – Registered Nurses (RNs) make up the bulk of the trained nursing staff on the ground in most healthcare settings. They usually have a wide variety of responsibilities (although this can vary from state to state) and supervise CNAs and LPNs. The registered nursing career role is perfect for many people who like variety, but many RNs do study for their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and choose to specialize in particular fields like Oncology or Pediatrics. The median salary for a Registered Nurse sits at around $73,000 per year.
  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) – an Advanced Practitioner is at the top of the nursing career path, and all APRNs have completed their Masters of Science in Nursing, usually by doing an RN to MSN degree course. The vast majority of APRNs will choose to specialize in such fields as anesthesia or midwifery, but there are options for APRNs to move into education roles, educate future RNs, and even leadership roles within their healthcare setting titles such as Director of Nursing Practice. An advanced practitioner can expect to earn around $105,000 as a median salary, with some specialism commanding much higher salaries.

Your Top Nursing Questions Answered

When considering a career in nursing, many people have a long list of questions and worries. 

Here are the top ten questions people always ask about nursing, to settle your fears, and help you to decide on this exciting career move!

How long is an RN to MSN program?

If you are a registered nurse and you have done your RN qualifications and exams, you may want to look at moving up to do a Master of Science in Nursing. This is a particularly good idea if you are going to specialize in areas such as midwifery.

An online RN to MSN program will usually take around three years to complete (30-36 months) and many RNs will continue to work whilst doing their RN to MSN qualifications, especially as the RN to MSN program usually requires students to complete many clinical hours.

Is going from an RN to an MSN a good idea?

While this is a difficult question to answer definitively for everyone, as everyone’s situation is very different, getting extra qualifications is never a bad idea, even if you choose not to use them in the future.

Many students choose to do an RN to MSN program to enhance their skills and learn more about their particular specialist interest. Taking an online RN to MSN degree means you will be able to continue working and may even be able to put some of your new skills into practice, gaining experience while completing your degree.

Can you go from an RN to an NP?

The short answer to this question is: yes. Unfortunately, it is not quite that simple!

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are more qualified and experienced than most RNs, and this typically means they hold higher qualifications and may have completed more clinical hours.

You will need to hold an RN qualification before you even enroll in a Nurse Practitioner program. Still, there are many different ways for RNs to transition into becoming an NP and depending on your qualifications, whether you already have your bachelor’s degree or whether you have completed your associate’s or diploma-based qualifications to become an RN, you may already be further along the qualification trail than you first thought! 

Can you get a Master of Science in Nursing without a Bachelor of Science in Nursing?

It is entirely possible to go onto a master’s program without first completing a bachelor’s program first. There are a few direct entry RN to MSN programs online, and you may even be able to enroll in an MSN program if you hold a degree in another related subject.

Usually, though, this does depend on your experience in the nursing field, and there are likely some extra exams and possibly extra classes you may need to take to boost your current qualifications and experience to the level required to join an MSN program.

What state has the highest RN salary?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California is currently the top paying state for people who hold their Registered Nurse qualifications with an annual median wage of approximately $113,000 per annum.

It should be noted that this salary is much higher than most other states, with the second-highest median RN wage, from the state of Hawaii, sitting at around $104,000 per annum. 

California also has the highest employment numbers at around 304,000 nurses, followed by Texas, in which there are around 218,000 RNs currently working.

What is the highest-paid nursing position?

This question is a bit of a double-edged sword because nursing can be such a specialized career path the further up the ladder you go.

In general, nurse anesthetists are the highest paid of the specialist RNs on average, but when we factor in other variables like hours worked and whether or not nurses have moved into education or senior leadership roles, it can become more difficult to say definitively which career specialism will pay the most.

One very clear thing is that without specialisms, the salary for registered nurses is likely to stagnate at around the $75,000 per annum mark, but the rise in salary, although good, may not be enough to justify the cost of extra qualifications and specializing for some students.

Can you be an RN without a degree?

Another short answer to this question: yes, you can become a registered nurse without a degree; however, most healthcare settings do prefer their registered nurses to have their Bachelor of Science in Nursing, so you may find it difficult to get work if this is something you do not have or do not want to do.

Legally speaking, all registered nurses must pass their NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) to ensure that they are safe to begin their role as an entry-level RN. You can take the NCLEX exam on your own, but most RNs find it easier and better to do the qualification as part of a BSN program or an ADN (Associates Diploma in Nursing) program.

Is it hard to get into an MSN program?

There is no clear answer to this question because it depends very much on each student’s aptitude and commitment to their course.

One thing is certain, pursuing your MSN degree in PA is hard work and not something that should be undertaken on a whim. Students will be required to do clinical hours, complete advanced anatomy courses, and work to complete advanced science courses too.

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Doing an MSN is a very academic option, but help is available from every university and college to steer students in the right direction and make the course as straightforward as possible without watering down the course’s important information.

Are online MSN programs respected?

Online training programs are a great idea for students who need flexibility and the ability to work whilst completing their degrees. If you are doing an RN to MSN qualification, the ability to get hands-on experience while you are completing your degree is invaluable, and many healthcare settings are happy for that to happen.

This does meet the need for flexibility, and this is where online learning comes in. All online MSN courses should be accredited by a body like the American Association of Colleges of Nursing to ensure thorough and deep enough. A large proportion of MSN graduates went via the online route, and it is a route that employers are quite happy for as long as the student can show that they have done enough clinical hours and get enough experience whilst doing the course.

What is the hardest nursing specialty?

The very idea of what is the ‘hardest’ specialty is highly subjective, but for most nurses, this is judged less by the academic studying required to get into the specialty, and more on the personal toll it takes to do the job well and correctly.

For this reason, Oncology and Hospice care usually top the list of the two most difficult nursing specialties due to the nature of the work. In both oncology and hospice care, you will likely be working with patients who have either a long battle ahead of them, or have little to no chance of survival, and for a person who went into nursing to help heal people, this can be extremely tough to get their head around mentally.

Another specialty that could probe challenging is obstetrics and gynecology. Many OBGYN Nurses love their job because they can look after both pregnant women and see them through happy pregnancies that result in healthy babies, but the downsides to the OBGYN specialism are watching babies (and sometimes mothers) die without being able to help.

It is never easy losing a patient, but this is the sad reality of healthcare that everyone at some point will pass away and die. As is the role of anyone in healthcare, the role of a nurse is to make the patent’s time on this earth as comfortable and pain-free as possible. If you can help health them back to health, that is always the preferred option, but palliative care nursing such as the nursing in Hospices and care homes is a really important but very emotionally challenging part of the job.

Summary

Nursing is a wonderful career for those who have an affinity for working with people and are interested in people’s care, though it is a demanding job, and the reward has to come from the feeling of self-satisfaction as much as anything else, especially on those tougher days, but there will always be that one patient or relative that reminds you why you came into the profession. 

Getting into healthcare is very valuable, whether you train to become just a Registered Nurse, or if you want to take your career further by doing an RN to MSN degree and beyond.

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